JERUSALEM (Jun. 26)
Israeli leaders are stressing their desire to “cooperate” with the United States to resolve the Beirut hostage crisis, and are using every public occasion to express their concern and sympathy for the 40 Americans held captive in Beirut by the Shiite Moslem extremists who hijacked TWA Flight 847 12 days ago.
A former Israeli Chief of Staff, Gen. Rafael Eiton, said meanwhile that it would not be difficult for the U.S. to blockade Lebanon if necessary to hasten release of the hostages. And the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, who arrived on a visit to Israel today, blasted the UN for what she said was its impotence in acting against international terrorism.
Premier Shimon Peres disclosed yesterday that he has written to President Reagan “about understanding, friendship and cooperation. ” He told reporters later, during a visit to a Druze village, that “Our concern for the safety of the hostages is no different than if they were our own hostages. “
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was criticized here last week for saying the hijack crisis was “purely an American problem”, spoke yesterday of “Israel’s readiness to cooperate with the United States against this terrorism. “
UNEASINESS BENEATH SURFACE
The remarks by Peres, Rabin and other ranking Israeli policymakers reflected an uneasiness with the beneath-the-surface cooling of relations with the Reagan Administration since the hostage crisis unfolded and worry over the strong U.S. media criticism of Israel. The latter, they believe, creates or reflects a perception by many Americans that the hostages would be released quickly if Israel freed the more than 700 Shiite Moslems it still holds in the Atlit detention camp.
That is the demand of the hijackers, conveyed to the world, but specifically to Washington, by Nabih Berri, leader of the Shiite militia Amal. Berri, seen by the West as a “moderate”, has set himself up as go-between in the hostage crisis. He claims he can protect the American captives from the Shiite extremists who hold them, though not indefinitely.
Israel’s basic policy is that it will make no concessions to the hijackers whom it considers terrorists and will not agree to free the Atlit prisoners en-masse unless asked to by the Reagan Administration. But the American signals seem strangely mixed. From the outset Administration leaders, from President Reagan on down, insisted the U.S. would make no concessions and would never ask anyone else to do so. At the same time, Washington reminded the world that it considered Israel’s transfer of the 700-odd Shiites captured in Lebanon to a prison camp in Israel to be in violation of international law as embodied in the Geneva Convention.
Vice President George Bush, visiting West Germany yesterday, was asked by reporters about the Shiite prisoners in Israel. He said it was U.S. policy “to welcome the release of people illegally held hostage. ” He also stressed that the Administration was against “knuckling under” to terrorist demands. But his remarks implied that the Shiites held by Israel are no less hostages than the American captives in Beirut. At the same time, Bush maintained that the terrorists “haven’t had any success” in their strategy to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Israel.
In the absence of any clear cut directive from the U.S., Israel apparently intends to continue its phased release of the Atlit prisoners. It freed 31 of them Monday and transported them to Lebanon, insisting that this was in no way linked to the hostage crisis but part of an ongoing process of repatriating Lebanese nationals detained by Israel.
Officials here said that Washington had welcomed that action in the hope it would elicit a conciliatory response from Berri. It did not and the Americans are said to have signaled that further releases would be unwise if there is no reaction from the other side.
KIRKPATRICK URGES UN ACTION
Israel gave a rousing welcome to Kirkpatrick today. Her week-long visit will include briefings by top government officials and a meeting with former Premier Menachem Begin who has lived in virtual seclusion since his resignation in 1983 and rarely receives visitors.
Kirkpatrick is here to deliver a lecture at Tel Aviv University on the subject of “the delegitimization of Israel at the United Nations.” In remarks to reporters at Ben Gurion Airport she lashed out at the world organization to which she was the U.S. envoy for five years.
Any attempt to secure the freedom of the American hostages should be made by the UN, Kirkpatrick said, which should deal with the hijackers and the Lebanese government. But she thought UN action against terrorism was difficult because of the political make-up of the Security Council.
“Very frequently, in the Security Council, there is no consensus on the Middle East, no consensus on terrorism generally, and an unwillingness on the part of all members, specifically including the Soviet Union, to join in even a routine condemnation of acts of terrorism,” Kirkpatrick said.
She added: “I always thought there was one issue on which diplomats ought to be able to agree — that diplomats should not become the objects of violence. And yet in more than four years we were never able — working with the French and others — to persuade the Soviets to join with other members of the Security Council in an anodyne statement opposing violence against diplomats.”
Meanwhile, former Chief of Staff Eitan, reacting to reports from Washington this week that the Administration was considering a military option to secure the release of the hostages, maintained that a maritime blockade of Lebanon posed no technical difficulties for the U.S. and would not require assistance from Israel. If the U.S. requested such assistance it should be discussed carefully, he said, but the main responsibility for freeing the hostages rests with Washington.
EITAN SEES BLOCKADE EASY
Eitan, who was Chief of Staff during the war in Lebanon, said the long exposed Lebanese coastline was ideal for a blockade operation. He said modern electronic surveillance equipment made it easy to watch any vessel, large or small, approaching Lebanon. But he thought the announcement alone that the U.S. was considering such measures would have the desired effect.
He suggested Berri’s announcement today that one of the hostages will be released immediately was probably a result of the American threat. The hostage in question was said by Berri to be ill with a heart condition. Most observers saw in Berri’s announcement a desire by the Amal leader to be perceived as a compassionate man who is in control of the hostage situation.
Eitan seemed to favor a U.S. blockade of Lebanon, the mere threat of which would frighten off many ships, he said. The main trade of that country these days is smuggling contraband, he noted, and a blockade would put considerable pressure on Lebanese government authorities and the heads of the various communities and militias who make their money directly from smuggling, he said.